With an uptick of new coronavirus infections, the U.S. is not in a good place entering the fall and winter months, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, told WTOP on Monday that he had hoped the U.S. would have been in a position where the baseline of daily infections would have been lower.
“We’ve flattened the curve, but the country is in a situation where we are having about 40,000 to 45,000 new infections each day. That’s not a very good place to be as you’re entering into the fall and winter months, where more things will be done indoors versus outdoors,” Fauci said.
Though some areas of the country are doing relatively well, including the D.C. area, Fauci said there is an uptick in test positivity in the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest.
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“And as some of the regions that had not originally been hit hard, we’ve got to make sure that we do not get surges in those areas. Or, it will make it much more difficult as we enter into the cooler, fall and colder winter months,” Fauci said.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., it has been a learning and evolving process for health officials over the spring and summer.
One of the most important things to keep in mind, Fauci said, is that about 40% to 45% of people who are infected do not have symptoms, and that there’s a considerable degree of transmission from people without symptoms to people who are infected.
“Which makes it much more compelling to wear masks and facial covering because you do not know, generally, if you are infected, or if someone else is infected,” Fauci said.
And remember when you heard recommendations to wipe down your groceries? Although the coronavirus can, theoretically, be transmitted by touching a surface — such as when that surface recently had the virus on it and then you touch your nose or mouth — “that is by no means the major way that this virus is transmitted,” Fauci said.
“The overwhelming majority of the infections are transmitted from person-to-person by their respiratory route,” he said.
Fauci strongly recommended that people follow the public health guidelines of avoiding transmission, which includes the universal wearing of face masks, avoiding crowds, keeping distances (the 6-foot rule), doing things outdoors much more than indoors and washing your hands.
‘Cautious optimism’ for vaccine
A group of vaccine candidates are in advanced clinical trial.
“We should anticipate, and I think with some cautious optimism, that we will know whether a vaccine is safe or effective by November or December. It could be early. It could possibly be October — that’s unlikely. I think it more likely will be November or December,” Fauci said.
And if the vaccines on trial show promise, they will be available to distribute to people who are in the higher-risk categories some time by the end of this year or the beginning of 2021.
“So, again, there’s never a guarantee, but things are looking good for a vaccine as we get to the end of the year, the beginning of next year,” Fauci said.
What about schools? ‘It depends where you are’
One size does not fit all when it comes to having children back in the classroom, Fauci said.
“It depends on where you are, and the level of infection in your community,” he added.
Areas with low levels of infection can, with some degree of impunity and from a public health standpoint, get children back to school as long as there is a plan on what to do if children get infected, Fauci said.
But, for the most part, schools in areas with ongoing active infections may need to do things a bit more prescribed, including wearing masks, indoor vs. outdoor classes, keeping windows open, keeping desks further spaced apart, alternating schedules and hybrid learning.
“The ultimate goal is to get the children back to school, that’s for sure,” Fauci said. “But you want to make sure you don’t compromise the health, safety and welfare of the children, as well as of the teachers and the people who come into contact with them.”
WTOP’S Mike Murillo contributed to this report.